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NAS Reviews

2-Bay Power Media Server
At a glance
ProductZyxel 2-Bay Power Media Server (NSA320)   [Website]
SummaryEntry level two-bay Marvell-based NAS with same feature set as NSA325 / NSA325 V2.
Pros• Lots of features - highly configurable via packages
• Quiet and Eco friendly
• Time Machine support
Cons• No front panel indication of degraded RAID
• No email notification of drive failure
• No USB 3.0 ports

Typical Price: $199  Buy From Amazon

{mospagebreak toctitle= Introduction, Inside}

Introduction

Buyers looking for a two-bay NAS have many choices. Recently, Tim looked at the ZyXEL NSA325 v2, an updated version of the original NSA325 that I reviewed in October 2012. Tim concluded that the NSA325 v2 was relatively expensive for a dual-bay single core SoC NAS, but it was loaded with features and provided decent performance.

It turns out that ZyXEL has a solution for those who want the NSA325's features, but not its price.This review looks at the ZyXEL NSA320, a cost-reduced, lower performance version of the NSA325 v2. The feature set on the NSA320 is identical to what you'll find on the NSA325 v2, save for some bugs found in the 320's firmware that are not present in the 325 V2's more recent revision.

The image below compares the NSA320 (left) and the NSA325 v2 (right). Both share the same LED indicators, power button and front USB port. It's important to note, however, that as one of the cost reductions, the NSA320 has three USB 2.0 ports. Both versions of the NSA325 have a single USB 3.0 port on the front panel and two USB 2.0 ports on the rear. The front panel of the NSA320 has a wavy plastic design more reminiscent of the original version of the NSA325.

ZyXEL NSA320 (left) and NSA325 v2 (right)

ZyXEL NSA320 (left) and NSA325 v2 (right)

The image below shows the front and rear panel callouts for the NSA320. On the rear panel, the single Gigabit Ethernet port has two LED indicators to show link status status, speed and activity.

ZyXEL NSA 320 front and rear panel layout.

ZyXEL NSA 320 front and rear panel layout

The figure below shows a description for each of the status indicator's colors and states.

ZyXEL NSA320 LED status indicator description

ZyXEL NSA320 LED status indicator description

Inside

The NSA320 is powered by a Marvell "Kirkwood" 88F6281 @ 1.2 GHz backed by 512 MB of RAM. Other key components are listed in Table 1, with those of the NSA325 and recently reviewed TRENDnet TN-200, which, like the NSA320, sells for $100. We'll be comparing performance of these three products later.

Product ZyXEL NSA320 ZyXEL NSA325 v2 (and v1) TRENDnet TN-200
CPU Marvell 88F6281 Kirkwood SoC @ 1.2 GHz Marvell 88F6282 Kirkwood SoC @ 1.6 GHz Marvell 88F62702 Kirkwood SoC @ 1.0 GHz
RAM 512 MB DDR3 512 MB DDR3 256 MB
Flash 128 MB 128 MB 128 MB
Ethernet Marvell 88E1318 Marvell 88E1318 Marvell 88E1318
USB 3.0 N/A NEC D72022F N/A
Table 1: Key component summary and comparison

The NSA320 drew 16 Watts with two WD RED WD30EFRX 3 TB drives we provided installed. The drives did not spin down, even with the network connection unplugged after the programmed idle drive spindown time elapsed. Fan and drive noise were rated as medium low and were audible in a quiet room.

Since connectors, switches and LEDs are in similar locations on both the NSA320 and both versions of the NSA325, the PCBs closely resemble each other. The photo below shows the NSA320's board.

Zyxel NSA320 PCB top view

ZyXEL NSA320 PCB top view

Features

I covered the features fairly extensively in the original NSA325 review and Tim covered the updates in his review of the NSA325 v2. So hit those reviews if you want details on the NSA320's features. Here are a few screenshots of the UI to give you a flavor of it.

ZyXEL NSA320 home page

ZyXEL NSA320 home page

ZyXEL has an online eumulator if you want to explore the user interface and features further.

ZyXEL NSA320 admin home page

ZyXEL NSA320 admin home page

Performance

The NSA320 was tested with V4.62(AFO.0)C0 firmware using our standard NAS test process. In reviewing the NSA320, two questions came to mind: How does the performance compare to the identically-featured $189 NSA325 v2 or in other words, how much performance am I going to give up in order to save $89? The second question is how does the NSA320 compare to the identically-priced $100 TRENDnet TN-200?

There are two ways to drill down on the performance to get the answer. First I looked at the File Copy Write and Read performance for both RAID 0 and RAID 1. The first two charts below show performance comparisons for all two-bay SoC-1 processor-based NAS products.

RAID 0 File Copy Read and Write performance for 2 bay SoC-1 NASs

RAID 0 File Copy Read and Write performance for 2 bay SoC-1 NASs

Looking at File Copy Write performance, you can see that the two ZyXEL NASes are running neck-and-neck with the NSA325 v2 having an insignificant edge (52.3 MB/s vs. 53.0 MB/s) over the NSA320. However, the NSA320 was 15% faster for File Copy Writes than the TRENDnet TN-200.

File Copy Read performance is a different story. The NSA325 v2 was 28% faster than the NSA320 (86.9 MB/s vs. 67.9 MB/s). The TRENDnet TN-200 was near the bottom of the charts at 55 MB/s.

If you are planning to use your NAS in RAID 1 mode (mirrored drives) for data redundancy, the next chart will be of particular interest to you. Where there was no virtually no difference in write performance between the two ZyXELs for RAID 0, for RAID 1, the NSA320 takes a performance hit compared to its more expensive sibling.

The NSA325 v2 was 31% faster than the NSA320. (52.7 MB/s vs. 44.2 MB/s) for RAID 1 File Copy Write. But the NSA320 held about a 10% advantage over the TRENDnet TN-200 (44.2 MB/s vs. 40.1 MB/s) for the same test.

RAID 1 File Copy Read and Write performance for 2 bay SoC-1 NASs

RAID 1 File Copy Read and Write performance for 2 bay SoC-1 NASs

For RAID 1 File Copy Read, we saw a similar spread in performance. The NSA325 v2 was faster than either the NSA320 or the TN-200. The NSA325 v2 was 29% faster than the NSA320 (86.5 MB/s vs. 67.2 MB/s) and the NSA320 held a 38% advantage over the TRENDnet TN-200.

Using these two charts, you can make your own comparisons. If you want to generate your own charts, you can also sort the results by price so that you can see what your additional dollars buy (or don't buy) you.

The second way to evaluate performance is to compare all of the benchmark tests side-by-side. While you can't generate charts like the one below automatically, through the magic of an image editor, I was able to cut and paste together (using 11 layers) the chart below.

Comparative benchmarks for the ZyXEL NSA325 v2, NSA320 and the TRENDnet TN-200

Comparative benchmarks for the ZyXEL NSA325 v2, NSA320 and the TRENDnet TN-200

We've covered the File Copy Read and Write comparisons in the two previous charts. In this chart, you can compare the balance of the tests, i.e. NASPT tests and backup tests. In most cases, the story is the same. The NSA325 v2 outperforms, but often, not by too much, the NSA320, and the NSA320 outperforms the TN-200 in all but a couple of tests.

I've highlighted the tests with a red box where the NSA320 outperformed the other two devices. In a few cases, such as the NASPT tests for File Copy to NAS, Content Creation, Office Productivity and HD Playback & record, the NSA320 had a slight edge over the NSA325 v2. It lost that edge, but not by much, for the corresponding NASPT tests using RAID 1.

Both ZyXEL NASes had similar Backup to USB drive performances and both blew away the TRENDnet for backup to an NTFS formatted drive. Of course, only the NSA325 v2 has a USB 3.0 port, and you can really see the performance advantage in the Backup to USB3 tests for all three supported partition types.

Closing Thoughts

The NAS Ranker provides the best way to get a relative performance ranking based on all benchmarks measured. Filtering the ranker for single-core SoC processors and two drives reveals the NSA325 v2, with a Total NAS ranking of #30 for all NAS devices tested, remains in third place behind Buffalo LinkStation 420 and ioSafe's N2, which is a Synology DS213 in a disaster-proofed enclosure.

The NSA320 with a Total NAS ranking of #39 ranks in eigth place for 2 bay SoC-1 NASes. If you sort the results by price, you end up with the chart below. Here, the NSA320 is at the top of the list, significantly beating the TRENDnet TN-200.

NAS Ranker sorted by price for 2 bay SoC-1 NASes

NAS Ranker sorted by price for 2 bay SoC-1 NASes

To buy a NAS with a better (lower) Total NAS ranking, you'd have to spend almost 50% more to buy the #36 ranked Buffalo LinkStation 421e or the #30 ranked Buffalo Linkstation 420. Considering the extensive feature set of the NSA320 that matches the features found on its $189 NSA325 v2 sibling, it's a great buy. And, for the same $100, the NSA320 handily beats the TRENDnet TN-200.

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